BY AURÉLIE PTITO
Usually Sel Gras has the type of service where you exclaim “all this? But it’s not even my birthday!” Well last week it actually was my birthday and I got my cake and ate it too. And by that I mean that I even had a beautiful bouquet of flowers waiting for me at the table, courtesy of the magnificent co-owner, Matthieu Arteau.
Although I don’t think they actually planned it for my birthday, that night the restaurant was hosting a special event dubbed “Soirée Vignerons et Dégustation”. As the name implies, this consisted of a tasting menu with wine pairings, featuring vintages from France. Not only did we get to savour three delicious courses whipped up by chef Marco Santos but we also got to sip on six different wines, with the grape growers on hand to describe everything we were drinking and to paint such a vivid picture of their vineyards that everyone at our table immediately decided to plan a trip to France to visit the estates of the excellent wines we drank. I think this is an extremely interesting concept and it was pulled off beautifully.
First, for the uninitiated, a word about what I love about Sel Gras: their high-end “Mediterranean comfort food” served with none of the pretentiousness of all the other comparable Montreal restaurants, expertly managed by co-owner David Martin (the atmosphere here is as good as the food); a constantly changing selection of freshly-shucked oysters; a homemade hummus and merguez (from next-door neighbour Boucherie Lawrence) starter; a dessert list that isn’t an afterthought; and a killer cocktail bar tended by the expert Farsim Fahandezh (I’m sure she can make you anything you want, but will not be referred to as a mixologist!)
The “Soirée Vignerons et Dégustation”, which the restaurant hopes to make a monthly event, was a hit and definitely something I would go back for and recommend. All the courses tasted are also available on the regular menu, thank God, because that tender magret with blackberry sauce and marinated artichoke (paired with three (!) glasses of delicious red) brought silence to the table and still makes my mouth water a week later. Of course, as the meal and the drinks wore on, my recollection gets a bit fuzzier (so don’t expect me to tell you what those three glasses of red were, but you can ask their very knowledgeable staff). I do remember the oysters and the Crémant de Limoux, drier than most I’ve tasted and a beautiful complement to those fleshy bivalves. I also have a vague but fond memory of a creamy red tuna tartare and the two delicious white wines it came with (I want to say pinot blanc from Alsace and a pinot gris/riesling?) Since it was my birthday, we went all out and ordered dessert: a creamy vanilla crème brûlée and an ice cream stuffed donut. For this course, we did our own pairing: grappa, shots of Jameson, and possibly margaritas. Although fun, our food and drink pairing was decidedly less of a success than the previous courses. Some things are better left to the professionals, especially at the later stages of the evening!
The very personable vineyard owners had many words of wisdom to share, such as the one in the title and this parting thought: “the only way to enjoy good wine is with good food”. Sel Gras has an abundance of both.
Restaurant Sel Gras
5245 Boul. St-Laurent
For more information on the wines we tasted: